Reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery reminds me of my college days. I haven’t worked so hard at reading for fun since the era of reading college textbooks back in the 60s and early 70s. I’m only 75 pages into the book (yes, I’m sure the first 100 pages are the most difficult…they always are), but I thought I’d offer a personal status report. And yes, I am enjoying the struggle, but after having just reread Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows…this book is work!

I often slide by words if I have a vague understanding of the word’s definition, but with Hedgehog, that doesn’t seem to be possible. Ignoring the fact that I may have lost too many definitions over the years, here’s my glossary for the first 75 pages . All definitions are from

Eruct (eructation on page 17): to raise (gas and often a small quantity of acid) from the stomach; belch (of a volcano) to pour out (fumes or volcanic matter), to emit violently.

Concierge (page 18): (esp. in France) a person who has charge of the entrance of a building and is often the owner’s representative; doorkeeper. Also a member of a hotel staff in charge of special services for guests, as arranging for theater tickets or tours. And an employee stationed in an apartment house lobby who screens visitors, controls operation of elevators, accepts deliveries to the tenants, etc.

Deleterious: injurious to health: deleterious gases or harmful; injurious: deleterious influences.

Seppuku (page 25): (ha•ra-ki•ri) Also called seppuku. Ceremonial suicide by ripping open the abdomen with a dagger or knife: formerly practiced in Japan by members of the warrior class when disgraced or sentenced to death. Also suicide or any suicidal action; a self-destructive act: political hara-kiri.

Incunabulum (page 36): extant copies of books produced in the earliest stages (before 1501) of printing from movable type. Also the earliest stages or first traces of anything.

Haka (page 38): a ceremonial maori war dance that involves chanting. Also a similar performance by a sports team before a game, esp. in New Zealand Rugby.

Maori (page 39): a member of the native Polynesian population of New Zealand. Also a Polynesian language, the language of the Maoris.

Cassoulet (page 40): a stew originating from France, made from haricot beans and goose, duck, pork, etc. (Hmmm, not what I think was intended by the context of the story).

Scrum (page 41): a Rugby play in which, typically, three members of each team line up opposite one another with a group of two and a group of three players behind them, making an eight-person, three-two-three formation on each side; the ball is then rolled between the opposing front lines, the players of which stand with arms around a teammate’s waist, meeting the opponent shoulder to shoulder, and attempt to kick the ball backward to a teammate. Also (British) a place or situation of confusion and racket; hubbub.

Phenomenology (page 53): the study of phenomena. Also, the system of Husserl and his followers stressing the description of phenomena.

Autodialects (page 53): a person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education; a self-taught person.

Ontology (page 59): the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such. (loosely) metaphysics.

Noematic (page 58): Of or pertaining to the understanding.

Opprobrium (page 62): the disgrace or the reproach incurred by conduct considered outrageously shameful; infamy. Also a cause or object of such disgrace or reproach.

Eclectic (page 71): selecting or choosing from various sources. Also made up of what is selected from different sources. Also not following any one system, as of philosophy, medicine, etc., but selecting and using what are considered the best elements of all systems.

Soporific (page 72): causing or tending to cause sleep. Also pertaining to or characterized by sleep or sleepiness; sleepy; drowsy.

Purloin (page 73): to take dishonestly; steal; filch; pilfer.

So, which words confounded you and should be added to our spelling list? How are you progressing through The Elegance of the Hedgehog?

If you’re curious about the overall structure and background for the book, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia (What would Renee say about Wikipedia as a source of information?). “The Elegance of the Hedgehog (French: L’élégance du hérisson) is a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery. The book follows events in the life of a concierge, Renée Michel, whose deliberately concealed intelligence is uncovered by an unstable but intellectually precocious girl named Paloma Josse. Paloma is the daughter of an upper-class family living in the upscale Parisian apartment building where Renée works.

“The events and ideas of the novel are presented through the thoughts and reactions, interleaved throughout the novel, of two narrators, Renée and Paloma. The changes of narrator are marked by switches of typeface. In the case of Paloma, the narration takes the form of her written journal entries and other philosophical reflections; Renée’s story is also told in the first person but more novelistically and in the present tense.

First released in August 2006 by Gallimard, the novel became a publishing success in France the following year, selling over a million copies. It has been translated into several languages, and published in a number of countries outside France, including the United Kingdom and the United States, attracting critical praise for both the work and its author.”

Happy reading!